On Devonta Freeman's performance**
Devonta Freeman and Terron Ward both ran with a degree of physicality that contradicts their size. Devonta is a sleek guy that brings the noise when he comes downhill. He was in a rhythm and I've always thought he is a patient runner. He's a lot like LeVeon Bell, where he will wait, wait, then find a crease. Because of his stature, it's a lot like Warrick Dunn, as a defender you lose him because you can't see him. And then all of a sudden he hits the crease and he's by you because he's so quick.
I thought he recognized early in the game that this could be a game that he would be very effective. Sometimes you've got to recognize that this is your night, and you have to step up. He did that.
Vince Lombardi would have been proud of Freeman's 32-yard touchdown
You get a great block from Mohamed Sanu on this play. He comes from outside-in and gets a great seal block on the edge. Tight end Levine Toilolo steps around that block and goes upfield to get the kick out block. It's almost like the old Vince Lombardi video, 'we'll get a seal, and we'll get a seal here, and we'll run the ball in the alley'. They got the nice seal block and they get the kick out and then Devonta gets going downhill.
And if you're a defender with Devonta Freeman in the open field, your main priority is to not get embarrassed. Devonta Freeman is too slick in the open field and Buccaneers safety Keith Tandy didn't even get a hand on him. We said on the radio it looked there was a yard sale at the 11-yard because all of the uniform pieces that used to belong to Keith Tandy were laying at the 11.
Jameis Winston may have learned some things from Ryan Fitzpatrick
Jameis Winston obviously played really well on Monday night, but part of his performance was related to the way Atlanta was defending him. The Falcons are going to play at depth in the secondary, try to get pressure with their front four and get eyes on the run game to stop that. So, you're going to be willing to give up some of the underneath throws. But that forces the offense to successfully string enough of those plays together to score.
And I think that Winston learned from watching Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for a few weeks. Jameis would normally be willing to take the risk of throwing the ball into harm's way in order to push it down the field. He has a big arm, and he made a couple of big throws on Monday night. But I think on Monday he realized 'Hey, I can play the keyboard here and sprinkle it around and move the chains'. So I think Jameis was learning from Fitzpatrick during those games that he had to sit out with the injury.
Jameis also helped neutralize the Falcons pass rush
Part of taking the shorter throws is getting the ball out quicker, and Jameis did that on Monday. I thought that Tampa's patchwork offensive line did a decent job of initially giving Jameis time to get the ball out. But I think Jameis understood that he had an offensive line that was a little beat up, and that Atlanta has a pretty good pass rush, and that he needed to take what Atlanta gave him right away. I thought that he executed the game plan probably as well as he could have.
Falcons third down offense kept Jameis Winston on the sideline
The 9-for-15 performance on third downs by Atlanta's offense was huge. That allowed Atlanta to control the ball for over 18 minutes in the second half, and keep it out of a hot Jameis Winston's hands. That was key.
I thought that Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian managed the situations really well, kept the run game involved, and for the most part kept Atlanta in good third down situations. Eight of the nine third downs that the Falcons converted were six yards or less.
Atlanta ends up 20-for-29 on third downs against Tampa Bay for the season, and that's unheard of.
Atlanta's offense physically wore down a Buccaneers defense playing to stop big pass plays
This was a game against a beat up Buccaneers defense, and I think a lot of fans thought 'well they don't have all these guys playing, we'll be able to throw the ball all over the place'. Well, what Tampa did was play the conservative style on defense they're comfortable with and play a little more zone on the back end, and then tried to hold up against the run with just their front seven. They were trying not give up big plays, and they did a good job of limiting chunk plays, but they got beat up physically over the course of 60 minutes. And that's why the Falcons kept coming after them with the run game.
Offensive line got into a rhythm and made it a physical game
I thought the offensive line deserved a ton of credit in this game because they were playing a little banged up as well. Ben Garland was making his second start at left guard. One thing that you'd like to do for a young offensive lineman that hasn't played a ton yet is make it a physical game. Get him coming off the ball and get his juices going a little bit, where he's beginning to reduce the guy in front of him physically. That even makes pass protection easier.
We talk about a quarterback, running back or receiver getting in a rhythm. I think an offensive lineman can get in a rhythm as well. Steve Sarkisian did a really good job of getting both of those young guards (Garland and Wes Schweitzer) going early and allowing that offensive line to play physically, which is the strength of Garland and Schweitzer.
Tampa made it a game because they played with a lot of heart
As banged up as Tampa was, I give them a lot credit for playing the way they did. They played with a lot of heart. When you people talk about pride in the NFL, that's what it looks like. They were down several players, but you had guys on that team playing for their jobs and opportunities to be in this league again next year. I thought they responded extremely well.